I think the most maddening thing about a holding cell is that there is no clock. Thanks to my son’s illness I am a professional at waiting for long stretches of time. And thanks to my incredibly active imagination, I can keep myself occupied for hours. But not being able to keep track of time when that’s all you have is extremely upsetting.
I sat there for three hours before the door reopened to allow another blue jump-suited “friend” to join me. My mind heard the canned applause usually reserved for a taped sit-com, you know, like when the Fonz had a scene on ‘Happy Days’ and you could hear everyone clapping, grateful that he had finally graced the screen with his presence. I looked at the floor, remembering the harsh words that the guard had left me with. Her Commandments: thou shalt not make friends, thou shalt not discuss your case, etc. It was an odd feeling to be scared and grateful for her presence all at the same time. I guess I could liken it to a middle school dance. God, how I wanted to be in her company, but her company made my palms sweaty.
“Nine months. He gave me nine months.” She paced back and forth as she told me.
“I’m sorry,” I squeaked as quietly as I could.
“No! That’s great! I thought I would get at least a year,” her long, dirty blonde hair was completely motionless even though she was pacing off her adrenaline rush. Then she quietly admitted, “I deserved more.”
I kept to The Commandments despite wanting desperately to ask more questions. I’m a social worker by nature, for crying out loud. This is my thing! She said her name was Elle (all names have been changed for obvious reasons.) Without my having to say a word she continued to tell me she had been busted for drunk driving a total of three times. This last time she had caused some property damage. And her pre-teen son had been with her. She was clearly ashamed of this fact, that she had subjected her son to something so horrible. He hadn’t been hurt – the only thing that died that night was a privacy fence. So, when the judge handed down something less than what she thought she deserved, she was grateful. She was going to use this time to get her life together. She had a plan. Honestly, I was envious. I had no plan. Heck, nobody even knew where I was except Matt, and, unfortunately, my children.
Elle stopped pacing and sat down. “They’re bringing lunch. I saw the bags in the hall before they brought me in.” For the first time, she really looked at me. I kept my chin low but peered up at her through my lashes, wondering if I wanted this new found attention. Then she asked, “Why are you here?” I deflected and asked quickly, “Lunch? Do you know what time it is?” She told me it was about 11:45 am. Then, she made the obvious deduction. “You’ve never been in jail before, have you?” I humbly admitted that I hadn’t. “Well,” Elle exclaimed, “lunch is the best option out of the three meals, so I’d eat this if I were you.”
And with that, I had made my first friend.
Elle was curled up sleeping on the bench as I continued to count cinderblocks. I’d already counted them before but, what the heck. I was checking my work. The door opened and in came a tiny girl (no doubt she was still deemed a Size S regardless of “Jail Size”) She sat down to the right of me by the toilet/sink/water fountain thingy. Despite my never being in jail before, even I knew that this was not an ideal place to sit.
Her Latin skin was covered with tattoos. There were a lot of angel wings anchoring names. I figured these names were either honoring her children or she had a lot of dead relatives. Damn those Commandments! I really, really wanted to ask. She eyed the apple that came with my lunch and asked if I was going to eat it. I said no. I had been bothered by visions of someone planting a razor blade in the apple, so I was scared to eat it. “Angel” held up her hand as if to catch a baseball. I chucked it in her direction, which she caught effortlessly. BAD ASS.
“You ain’t never been in jail before, have you?” God. Was it that obvious? I mean, outside these cinderblock walls I would be proud to say I had never been in jail before, but while I was being held captive within these walls, my jail-less past was a liability. “No. I’ve never been in jail before.” There. I said it.
“How old are you?” Angel asked as she crunched into my apple. I winced, waiting for her to catch the edge of that razor blade. With one eye closed, I said, “I’m 43.”
Her eyes popped wide as she exclaimed, “You’re 43? And you ain’t never been in jail before?” I winced again at the grammatical errors but quickly stopped before she caught it. That was the type of nonsense that would definitely get me killed.
She smiled at me and said, “Well, that’s pretty amazing. My first time in jail I was 16.” She went on to reminisce about her first time, and I listened. Her animated hands flying as she explained how she was caught trying to hide someone, not under a bed or in a closet, but she was trying to hide her 200 pound boyfriend by laying on top of him, shielding him from the police. We ended up laughing at the ridiculousness of this small woman attempting to camouflage a 200 lb man from the cops simply by laying on top of him. We laughed as if we were old friends.
And so far, all I had admitted was that I was 43 and “ain’t never been in jail before.” I was doing pretty well with the Commandments without alienating the women I was trapped with.
It was only 12:30 pm. I had over 28 more hours to go.
Clearly, this story will be continued….